When performance at companies like mortgage lender Countrywide Financial (NYSE:CFC) or bond insurer MBIA (NYSE:MBI) simply comes unglued, it's expected that the pain of the operational disaster will be borne, if not equally, at least in good part by management and shareholders alike.

Yet too often, insiders continue to live the good life regardless of what happens at the company. Bonuses get awarded. Raises go through. Murky "personal performance goals" magically continue to be met, and options get granted. Shareholders, on the other hand, get to cry in their beer over the minuscule valuation their once high-flying shares now hold.

Congress is apparently in a sour mood about all this too, as it will be hosting a tete-a-tete for the heads or former heads of Countrywide, Merrill Lynch (NYSE:MER), and Citigroup (NYSE:C) to ferret out just how they could reap such windfalls. The hearing was originally scheduled for tomorrow, but has been postponed.

Disconnect from reality
The disconnect between pay and performance has been what galls. Home Depot’s (NYSE:HD) stock has dwelt in the basement for years, but Bob Nardelli got weighed down with golden ingots in a rich severance package upon leaving. Stan O'Neill also got a generous sendoff from Merrill Lynch right after the financial institution wrote off more than $8 billion. The rich pay package of Countrywide's CEO, Angelo Mozilo, has long been a touchpoint of criticism, regardless of the lender's performance but particularly in light of the wreck it has become.

That's why many feel the trio of risk and rot will at least be getting their comeuppance this week when they have to testify before Congress. Executive pay is a hot-button issue in an election year, and a separate House committee will be hearing from board compensation committee members, including Richard Parsons, former CEO at Time Warner (NYSE:TWX), who sits on Citigroup's pay package group.

While I've taken Home Depot, Countrywide, and Goodyear (NYSE:GT) to task for putting management's interests ahead of shareholders’, I only wish one of the CEOs appearing on Capitol Hill had the guts to tell Congress to stuff it.

Monkey see, monkey do
It's no secret that raking these high-paid, low-performing executives over the coals will be great fun, and it will play well in Peoria with constituents, but in reality your local congressman is in no position to be pointing fingers at anyone for outsized "pay for failure" packages. A look at the shambles that our economy is in, not to mention the ballooning of the national deficit, should leave more than a few elected representatives at least following Mozilo’s lead (he is foregoing more than $37 million to which he is entitled).

It's great political grandstanding to haul an overpaid executive up to Washington to chastise him for getting rich at shareholder expense. Only thing is, Congress shouldn't be muddling in CEO compensation to begin with. It was just such meddling in executive pay that spawned the stock-option bonanza a few years ago.

Congress has no cause to censure anyone. And though it might give us a warm, fuzzy feeling inside to see Mozilo or ex-Citigroup CEO Charles Prince excoriated in public, it's really the shareholders themselves who need to be held accountable. The pay and severance packages are routinely announced to stockholders, and they get to vote on the board members who devise and approve such plans.

We are the enemy
While we might get a cathartic release from letting our local representatives doing our dirty work for us, in reality it's us who need to be disciplined for not saying “enough is enough.” It's up to us to vote down out-of-whack pay packages and vote those directors who offer them off the board. If executives are receiving generous "pay for failure" benefits, then we have only ourselves to blame.